15 brightly coloured post-it notes in neat lines. We smiled as we had to put away our laptops, at the quaintness of the exercise. Write 5 things you have, 5 things you can do and 5 people you love. Then, at random intervals, to the ‘boing’ of a phone alarm at odds with the cacophony within, we had to take something away. This is what it is like to get old, we were told. A depressing Russian roulette of everything you can’t leave behind.
My phone is relinquished easily, but soon the words on the crumpled paper start to sting. You are not allowed to look before you take them away, just as in life you don’t get to choose. My parents. My dog. My sister and her husband. It’s completely hypothetical, but it stings behind my eyes.
I cheat. I know that the three precious ones who make me an aunty are all on the same pink square to the left. I didn’t have enough room to write everyone individually, so before I knew what it would mean I grouped them together. I steer far away from that side of things. I cannot fold them up in front of this room of people.
It sounds barbaric, but it was more of an awakening, a reminding. I chose the seminar randomly, but it did not choose me the same way. God knew, as he always does. It was on ministry to seniors and it didn’t take very long to feel real. I thought about my Grandma, who all of my life and especially at the end was easy to love. I thought much more about my Nan who I love very poorly indeed.
It was easy to think of older people in my churches, past and recent, who are precious to me beyond belief. This has been the norm of my life. It was very hard to think of my Nan, who sits in a row I used to frequent, in a church my heart still loves, and sleeps through the messages each week that could save her life. It was very hard because I am so bad at loving her that I don’t know why she would want to be a Christian if that’s what I say I am. Any grace extended is squeezed out, like the final insufficient mint of toothpaste. Mostly the opposite is snapped, impatiently.
After many years of this, I conclude it is hard because she doesn’t love Jesus. This is true. There is an underlying hope and drive and expectation and anchor to my life that she does not share. Our relationship is frustrating because I do not want to talk to her about what the remembered “they” all do in Europe and why it is better than the present “us” here. I don’t want to be praised for things like unpacking the dishwasher faster than anyone she has ever met. I don’t want her to clam up just when things get interesting, the second anything deeper might be touched upon.
And she knows it.
My Nan has had a long, hard life. A war and a prisoner of war. A refugee and a grieving mother. A widow and a pensioner and a reluctant bush-dweller after years of city life. She wants to know that soon it will be over. She cannot fathom that maybe the end won’t signal release, after all she has seen.
I don’t have many answers today, after the seminar, just regrets. How can I ever undo all that I have done? I can’t. How can I ever think about it being different next time? I have made that vow so often that I despair. I am so very weak and hard and cold and wicked.
This isn’t something I can do alone and I don’t want to make any more vows, but I do long for it to be different. I will pray about that – maybe you could too?
The most important thing is for her to love Jesus, and I am ever so grateful, with all of my heart, that this can’t ultimately be thwarted by my many failures to love her. If she is being called sweetly by God, then he will have her. I hold on to that until my fingers are white at the edges.
But my terrible sin is not unnoticed and it will not go unpunished.
I read this morning in Spurgeon that a follower of Jesus does not confess sin as a criminal before a judge, but a child before a Father. Because the penalty has been paid, the confession is to restore relationship, not to atone for the guilt. I can’t atone. I never could, if I devoted every remaining second of my life, atone for one ill-spoken word. “Could my zeal no respite know…”
Which is why the fact that Jesus death was for my sin and in my place is so staggering. He did what I can’t, to achieve what I couldn’t, to win for me a life that I deserve the polar opposite of.
My Nan maybe doesn’t understand grace, because she has had to work so very hard, for so long. The idea that none of that counts, in the final scales, sounds like a terrible injustice. But at the same time, grace is too much for her. She has never been given anything as freely as the grace of God is offered to her.
Some of my friends didn’t have family to write on their pink squares. For one precious friend, it was my name they reluctantly screwed up. It could easily have worked the other way, if I didn’t have so much family to account for. My Nan was the only person alone in her pink square. She wasn’t removed in the exercise and she hasn’t been removed in reality either.
Will you pray, with me, that Jesus might do what only he can and break into her heart which is wrapped in decades of protective paper, and make it new? Will you pray, for me too? To love her, as I have been loved.